Scalia's empty chair and the Senate's path forward
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The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia established himself and will long be remembered as a towering hero of the conservative movement. The coming months will likely bring more political wrangling and high-minded rhetoric over the nomination of his successor.

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Two key questions stand out. First, can the nomination and confirmation occur before the November presidential and congressional elections? Second, what type of nominee would clear the constitutional hurdle of Senate confirmation?

Scalia leaves an impressive legacy as a tireless and unceasing champion of democracy and the constitutional text. On a personal level, of course, he also leaves an impressive family legacy: his wife Maureen and their nine children and over 30 grandchildren.

To be sure, his relentlessly logical approach and doctrinal consistency dramatically influenced the court, even his liberal colleagues, to look to the text and the plain meaning of provisions under review. His textualist approach steered the court away from judicially crafted multi-part tests that seemed more like statutes than judicial decisions. He imposed more analytical rigor in his approach to legal precedents and outcomes. He all but ended the judicial game of justifying outcomes by sleuthing for obscure snippets of language buried somewhere in the many hundreds of pages of "legislative history." Congress, he said, "does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions — it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes."

As court watchers have recognized, Scalia was also one of the best writers in the history of the Supreme Court.

On the issue of his successor, history may prove instructive. The most recent occasions when a president nominated and the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court selection in a presidential election year were 1956, 1940 and 1932. In two of these cases, a Republican president named Democrats to the high court: President Eisenhower selected William Brennan and President Hoover selected Benjamin Cardozo.

President Obama could follow this precedent and name a Republican to fill Scalia's seat. Rumor had it that Obama was considering Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada. That type of nominee would put the pressure back on Senate Republicans to explain to American voters in their home states why a Republican nominee would be unacceptable. But wary conservatives have been burned too many times by the likes of Justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, or even Chief Justice John Roberts.

A Republican nominee would present a special challenge for those Republican senators up for reelection in moderate states, such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonRight renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Overnight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs Senate poised to confirm Trump's DHS pick after friendly hearing MORE (R-Wis.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanSchumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' US launches trade case against China over aluminum subsidies MORE (Ohio), Mark KirkMark KirkGOP senator: Don't link Planned Parenthood to ObamaCare repeal Republicans add three to Banking Committee Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama MORE (Ill.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteTen rumored Trump Cabinet picks who didn't get a job Sasse, Perdue join Armed Services Committee Avid pilot among GOP senators joining Transportation committee MORE (N.H.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

The confirmation process changed dramatically over the last few decades, as critics of the Warren Court focused attention on the Supreme Court's failure to act as an umpire calling balls and strikes as it became a super-legislature of unaccountable life-tenured judges who substitute their own policy preferences for duly enacted laws — in the words of the late Professor Herbert Wechsler, a "naked power organ."

Ultimately, we see this frustration on both sides of the political aisle in the presidential nomination contest. We see a great divide between voters' wishes and Washington's failure to deliver the relief they seek. That divide is one reason for the rise of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcCain leans toward voting for Tillerson CIA director on Trump dossier: 'Was I a leaker of this? No.' Green Day drops new anti-Trump music video MORE (R) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump education pick to face Warren, Sanders Sanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Sanders: Not a 'bad thing' if Comey resigns MORE (Vt.).

This presents Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyJeff Sessions will protect life Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes Pence meets with Kaine, Manchin amid Capitol Hill visit MORE (R-Iowa) the perfect opportunity to redeem Washington Republicans with frustrated voters of all persuasions.

The people gave Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010. They voted House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRyan reelected Speaker in near-unanimous GOP vote Financial technology rules are set to change in the Trump era Trump allies warn: No compromise on immigration MORE (R-Va.) out of office in a Republican primary. They gave Republicans a Senate majority in 2014. They essentially forced Speaker House John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary Trump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio) to resign last fall.

Voters sent Republicans to Washington to use their rare and historic control of both Houses of Congress to stop President Obama. It is high time now, in the fourth quarter of Obama's presidency, to use this empowerment on the most important issue of our time. McConnell and Grassley deserve credit for recognizing the importance of this moment and the charge they have from voters.

President Obama could choose to follow the examples of Presidents Eisenhower and Hoover by crossing party lines. He could nominate a solid defender of the rule of law and the Constitution, such as Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeRight renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Conservatives press Trump on Supreme Court pick Overnight Finance: Ethics chief blasts Trump business plan | Senate begins late-night marathon vote | Lawmakers look to rein in Trump on trade MORE (R-Utah). If so, the Senate would have an easy time confirming Obama's selection. If not, the country will be better off leaving Justice Scalia's chair empty until a worthy successor can be found.

Trotter is a political analyst and attorney. Her views are her own.